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Skivvies Not Required

6 Sep

I’ve taken some really long baths in my time.  I’ll finish a book there or just slowly turn into a prune.  I love it.  So the prospect of taking a 3.5 hour bath has me anxious for our trip to get here already.

In Baden-Baden, so named as it is the city of Baden in the district of Baden, we will be getting squeaky clean.  We will also, apparently, be getting naked.  At the Roman-Irish Baths in Freiderichsbad mud doesn’t stand a chance and neither does that good old American-bred modesty.  All clothes are left behind for 3.5 hours of different baths, showers, steam rooms and pools.  My thought is that if everyone else is going to be starkers then who cares?  I know the rest of the world doesn’t think this way but a wise man by the name of Ollie gave me a really good piece of advice once.  He said that no one thinks about you even a fraction as much as you think they do.  So if you believe that, and I do, then is naked guy #2 really going to spend the next half hour thinking about how white my behind is?  Doubtful.  So on with the fun!

There are a number of steps involved in the bathing, as I mentioned before.  They are as follows:

  1. Shower
  2. Warm air bath 129.2° F
  3. Hot air bath 154.4° F
  4. Shower
  5. Soap & brush massage (additional cost)
  6. Shower
  7. Thermal steam bath 113° F
  8. Themal steam bath 118.4° F
  9. Thermal full bath 96.8° F
  10. Themal whirlpool bath
  11. Thermal kinotherapeutic bath (did research on what kinotherapeutic is but it’s all in German)
  12. Shower
  13. Cold water bath (immersion bath) 64.4° F
  14. Drying off (warm towels)
  15. Application of moisturizing cream
  16. Resting area

The baths alternate from completely mixed to mostly separated from day to day.  On the day the sexes are seperated they can still meet up in the baths under the domed roof.  I think it would be fun to share this with the Mister.  Mark Twain is quoted as saying “In Freiderichsbad you lose track of time within 10 minutes and track of the world in 20 minutes”.

Towels, slippers and moisturizing cream all come with the price of admission (€29 with the soap massage and €21 without).  All the different rooms have assigned time limits as some German scientist spent a very long time figuring out the exact amount of time you would need to be wrapped up in a blanket.  Times are somewhat flexible from what I read and the staff is roughly multilingual.  I plan on just following the delighted sighs.


You Put a Latte in My Heart

27 Jul

The Mister and I aren’t really coffee drinkers… except that lately he has found room in his heart for the foamy latte.  This has been going on for months and I truly didn’t understand it.  Then it happened to me. 

Last Friday I purchased a latte for my friend Megan, who you met here, and one for myself.  I figured that two of my favorite people like this stuff then it might not hurt to give it a go.  Now I’m sunk.  They are much better than I could have guessed.  Perhaps it’s that I’m older now and I like things that are bitter.  I learned from Alton Brown’s Good Eats that when we are young we associate bitter with poison.  So we don’t like veggies or dark chocolate or coffee.  Now I love veggies, dark chocolate, a pint of bitters and, after much hold out, coffee.  Or at least I do right now as I’m typing under the influence of a grande.

Something I learned is that latte is often mispelled as latté or lattè.  This kind of extra flair is attributed to something called hyperforeignism.  I read about it on Kottke and you should too.  Basically it’s taking a foreign word and making it, well, more foreign by mispronouncing it.

In hopes of avoiding more errors, I was interested in how the Mister and I can order these suckers when we’re overseas.  I knew that if I ordered a latte in France that I’d get a cup of hot milk.  Research suggests that I can order café crème or un crème in French speaking places.  In Italy, I can simply say caffèe latte as the Italians invented the stuff, and not, as so many people thought, the French.

Now in Germany it’s a whole other matter.  I did a little research and it’s pretty important how you phrase this one, apparently.  If you want a latte then you’d better say you’d like a Macchiato Latte.  Why?  In German the word latte refers to a post or something wooden, like the English word lathe.  If you are requesting a latte you will likely be interpreted as wanting something wooden.  And someone will probably giggle at you.  They have another term that refers to something being wooden in the morning, Morgenlatte.  So how do I put this delicately?  It would not be a good idea to go into a German café and request something stiff and wooden and creamy, you feel me?  If you don’t then just heed my advice about adding Macchiato and watch more HBO, will ya?


The Hitler Salute: On the Meaning of a Gesture – Tilman Allert

16 Jul

I’ve been putting this post off for a bit, honestly.  Why?  It has to do with something that happened in college.  No, I didn’t get beat up by a skin head or anything.  What happened was that I bought an itty bitty journal, the kind that seem a great idea at the time but that are beyond pointless in execution.  Anyway, in this tiny little thing I was going to write quotes that I thought were interesting, inspiring or whatever kind of quotes you’d write in a journal the size of a pack of gum.

Anyway, when I got around to putting quotes in it the process wasn’t as much fun as I’d planned.  Or any at all.  So I made myself write one down and then I called it a day.  Unfortunately, the one quote I wrote in there had to do with religion controlling people’s minds and it was said by Adolf Hitler.  So… my college roommate saw it and my copy of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” and she kind of put two and two together and made a giant negative assumption.  Yeah, she thought I was a Nazi.  Or at least someone who wanted to hang with them.

When I went digging for this image I was reminded again that there is still a lot of scary websites attached to this topic.

Ever since then I’ve been a little worried that others would think the same thing.  Now in the course of learning about European history I’ve been renting documentaries on him, writing about him and reading about him.  I wanted to do as little of that as possible but this is really a good book.  And it’s written by a German, which adds a special perspective to the phenomenon.  And basically I just need to get over myself anyway.

The Hitler Salute is that of saying “heil Hitler!” and raising the right arm out straight at should height.  In July of 1933, an interministerial decree made using this salute mandatory.  Then a few months later it became necessary in public life as well.  It was referred to as the German greeting and it was required to use it every time the new German anthem was played or sung.  They also were required to make the German greeting when they saw police officers, swastika flags or consecrated sights of the Nazi movement.  The amount to which it was done quickly became ludicrous and would have been laughable had it not been so deadly serious.  Germans were saluting sand sculptures of Hitler at the beach, teens were saying “swing heil!” at the dance halls.  “Heil Hitler” was included on bank statements, business letters, order forms and delivery receipts.  Children were given dolls with posable right arms.  And should you forget your duty as a German there were small metal signs posted in public places reminding you.  You could see them on telephone poles, public squares and street lanterns. 

What really stuck with me after reading this book was a point that Allert makes early on.  He explains that the German greeting, as Germans still call it today, did away with the choice of greeting.  We have that choice when we see people every day.  We can smile, say “hi”, make a joke or ignore each other.  It’s a moment between you and that other person.  You decide to open up or not.  You choose to respond or pull your shirt over your head.  It’s optional.

With the German greeting even this basic right was taken away.  The simplest of human expressions was politicized.  You could be sanctioned or punished for failing to partake in it.  That’s scary.  I hope it helps us all to remember the value of being able to be unique.  It’s important to make informed decisions and not coerced ones.  Inspire and don’t require.  And definitely don’t threaten.


OMG Pwnies!

14 Jul

In my last post I promised I’d write about ponies.  Turns out I’ll be writing more about animals in general but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and get the t-shirt.

In the states it’s fairly typical, and required by most foster groups and shelters, that animals be altered.  That’s just a nice way of saying that the baby-making is shut down.  This is to stop overpopulation and it’s fairly uncontroversial.  In fact, lately I’ve seen billboards for this group called the Kindest Cut.  They provide neutering and spaying for those who cannot afford this for their pet.

Higgins sez "I'm packed and I'm ready. Let's roll."

Europeans believe that altering an animal doesn’t solve overpopulation.  They believe that our issues with puppy mills and other questionable breeding methods are to blame.  It’s not common for an animal to be altered in Europe.  Some countries even have laws against these procedures unless it is medically necessary for the pet’s health.  I’m not currently far enough along in researching this topic to say who is right here but it’s always good to know that these things we take for granted as being right might not be.  At least not in other’s eyes.

When I was reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson he quoted Ambassador Dodd as mentioning that he had never seen happier dogs or horses before.  That Germans took exceptionally good care of their animals, especially as the treatment of humans decreased.

I’m not surprised that this was his take on Germany.  As I’ve been looking into this I’ve found that German have many laws on the treatment of animals that might surprise Americans.  Their dogs must not be left alone for more than 5 hours at a time.  They must be walked several times a day and they cannot be chained up within the home or put in a crate.  Germans disapprove of keeping dogs in bathroom, balconies or basements.  And neighbors will report any issues they see both to a vet and the police.

Most countries have standards for the number of pets allowed per household with the general being two.  Though many go over this limit they do this knowing that it can lead to eviction.  Also in most EU countries declawing of cats and docking of tails and ears of dogs is considered animal cruelty.  All countries in the EU have laws against animal cruelty except Spain, what with bull fights and all.  Spain (along with the UK and Germany) does have dangerous dog laws.  Certain breeds, mostly of the bull terrier breed,  are not allowed or they are restricted.  Spain’s doesn’t care so much about the breed but if the dog weighs in at more than 44 pounds, has a square head, strong muscular jaws and a strong back he won’t be allowed.

It’s not all roses for European pets.  In Spain, for example, dogs are often kept as security alarms since most alarms are ignored.  As a result some neighbors have taken to poisoning these dogs to get their peace and quiet.  In Turkey stray cats are often poisoned instead of taken to a shelter.

Assuming that you’re not the poisoning type and you would like to take your pet on your trip there’s a bunch to know.  Entrance into the EU requires a pet passport / an ISO microchip.  Sometimes the passport must be issued by the local vet for the foreign buddy.  There are countries that require as much as six months of preparation prior to travel of your pet. 

I wasn’t pleased to learn that most Europeans are hesitant or simply refuse to adopt or sell an animal to an American.  Why?  Our reputation as a country is one of people who abandon, mistreat or are somewhat irresponsible.  Now that’s the generalized opinion and of course I don’t agree with it one bit.  However, this is something to be aware of when traveling overseas.  I personally plan on taking pictures of Henry (cockapoo/toy poodle), Higgins (domestic long hair cat) and Oona (domestic short hair cat) with me.  Before I was thinking that would be a good conversation starter but now I think that it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit of an ambassador, however minimal or nonexistent my impact will be.  It’s not as if you have to twist my arm to get me talking about the fluffy ones anyway.   And it would seem that 2010 was the first time Europeans outspent the US in pet supplies.  Perhaps they will understand why our pals need new toys… again.

In The Garden of Beasts – Erik Larson

5 Jul

Before I get much farther here I should give you the whole title of the book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. This book is from the same author who wrote Devil in the White City which I also loved. That one was about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and serial killer who preyed on its crowd. In the Garden of Beasts focuses on an evil much more widespread.

This book is a page turner. I read it on my Kindle at the gym and my workouts flew by as I devoured it. This non-fiction book centers on the Dodd family in 1933. The father, a former professor, would serve as a reluctant ambassador to Germany during this turbulent time in history. The daughter, Martha, would play coquette and Russian roulette. She would date high-ranking party members, enjoying her flirtation with danger.

Dodd starts his post with a wish not to stir the pot. He hopes to keep the peace with Hitler’s Germany at any cost. The longer he stays in Berlin, the more he sees that a black cloud is taking over. Few in the American State Department will listen and they focus instead on his limited budget and his absence at Nazi rallies.

Meanwhile Martha is courting Russian spies, Nazis and… (drum roll) trouble. She initially sympathizes with the Nazis and it takes long exposure to this new world for her to wakeup to the harsh reality. People are being killed, lives ruined and democracy is a thing of the past.

Seeing this point in the National Socialist party from the view of Americans is terribly interesting. Larson delivers history with drama just as he did in Devil in the White City. It’s not drama for drama’s sake though, nowhere is it added where it didn’t already exist. He is cautious with his details and shares the facts as a journalist would, allowing us to draw our own conclusions. A terrific read even without the elliptical.

Hi-Tech Hitler

4 Jul

I’ll be honest with y’all. There are definitely times when I check out something specifically because I’m hoping that I can rope the Mister into watching it with me. This was certainly the case with Hi-Tech Hitler.

The History Channel puts together a fine doc on the science of the Nazis that I hadn’t heard of yet. As one of the experts in this program pointed out, when most of us think of scientific work by the Germans during WWII this isn’t our first thought. I think of testing on Jews and other populations that did not find favor (or humanity) with the Nazis.

The scientific advances highlighted here thai illy did not involve torture. The Germans studied human populations and mice to link tobacco smoking to cancer. They developed jet engine for bombers. They also invent a method for recording audio on magnetic tape. One advance, that of the electron microscope, went largely unnoticed as it didn’t further Hitler’s war machine. The other discoveries did and money and resources went toward them.

I thought that this was a very interesting look at science behind the swastika. And if you haven’t already seen it, Kevin, you totally should.

The Lives of Others (2006)

26 Jun

This movie won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 so it goes without saying that it’s not in English.  It’s original title is Das Leben Der Anderen (Dahss Lee-bin Durr Ahn-durr-inn).  I had to bring that up because ever since I saw this film I’ve been saying the German title in my head.  How is that relevant here?  I could say it’s that the film is so powerful that I can’t stop thinking of it, which is true, but it’s more that I find random things stuck in my head all of the time.  For example, the lyrics to “That’s Not My Name” by the Ting Tings.  That song is so catchy that I find the Mister and I singing it for just about every purpose.  “Where is our pup-py?  I do not know.  I think he’s slee-ping and feeling low.  That’s not my fault.  That’s not my fault…” etc.

But since this movie is so wonderful it deserves my attention, so here we go.  This is a story of East Germany and the role of the Secret Police or Stasi.  It focuses on the select few who were allowed to live their lives as private citizens as long as they carried out their work without cause for suspicion.  A playwright, in particular, is seen here.  The film opens on one of his plays that shows strong support for the East German way of life.  His girlfriend stars in the play and this is when a leader of the Stasi decides he must have her.  The cost is that the playwright must be followed and spied on.  Something wrong must be discovered so that the actress can be his and the playwright can be eliminated.

Enter a Stasi detective who walks the party line.  He is happy to bug the playwright’s apartment and set up a surveillance unit in the attic of the apartment building in which the playwright lives.  But in doing so he slowly begins to see the humanity.  His eyes are opened to the flaws in the system.  It is his journey that captivates us as we follow him through his days.

This work was a passionate one from all involved.  The performances are brilliant and are given by actors who accepted only 20% of their usual salaries so that they could be part of this project.  The props master spent two years in a Stasi prison.  He worked diligently to insure that all props were authentic, borrowing from collectors and museums.  The director and writer Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck spent a month translating the screenplay into French so that he could interest Gabriel Yared into composing the score.  He was convinced that his touch was needed as music appears as a character in the film.  Though I can fault Donnersmarck for directing the beautiful but vapid The Tourist with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, I can’t fault his work here.  Every touch is nuanced but genuine.  We are transported into this world and leave feeling unsettled, as we should.  Das Leben Der Anderen is powerful and does allow flinching.

It’s not an easy movie to watch but I truly enjoyed it.


Paths of Glory (1957)

15 Jun

This is an amazing movie.  I checked it out from the library on the suggestion of my professor.  Or at least that’s what I call him.  I don’t think that listening to his lectures through iTunes U is quite the same as attending class.  Still I’m quite attached to the guy.  I’d like to think that I’d even take notes and do all the assigned reading for his course.  Or at the very least, watch the movies.

This is one of Stanley Kubrick’s first films.  You may know his work on a Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining or 2001: a space odyssey.  I hope that you do not know him from Eyes Wide Shut.  Paths of Glory was a film that Kubrick was determined to make despite the fact that he was pretty sure that it wouldn’t make a lot of money.  He was right in this assumption but this movie is a classic today for what it is, not what it isn’t.

The story is that of a French troop during WWI.  They are ordered to complete a mission that will likely spell disaster and death.  This is the result of an upwardly mobile general agreeing to suicide for his men in hopes of advancement for himself.  During the battle many die and eventually the group is forced to surrender.  They are under equipped and out manned by the Germans.  Due to their anticipated failure the generals believe that an example should be made and they seek to court martial and execute men.

If you see the film you will easily forget that this is supposed to be a French troop.  Besides the character names there is very little indication.  The movie itself is shot near Munich and Dachau.  Many of the men in the trenches are off duty Munich policemen.  But the point is still clear.  War is quite often insane.  Though the trenches are a bit wider than they were in real life to accommodate camera movements they still feel close.  They still resonate with fear and dread.  Kirk Douglas is wonderful if you don’t mind him being undeniably American.

Many French and Swiss did mind Kubrick’s adaptation of the book by the same name.  The movie was banned in France and the Swiss didn’t release it because, in simple terms, it made the French look cowardly.  From the distance of years I can say that it doesn’t appear that way to me.  The French men in the trenches were brave in an impossible situation.  That’s true courage.  Seeing the movie helps us to remember that war is not fair.  It’s not just or friendly or even logical.

Though I thought A Very Long Engagement did a better job of portraying the trenches, I happen to be biased.  I like French speaking French and I like to see things in color.  Maybe because then it helps me to stop thinking of that time in history in black and white.

Enough is Enough

6 Jun

The same day we visit the champagne caves in Reims (rhymes with France), we will also be visiting what the French call Musée de la Reddition.  That roughly translates into the Museum of Surrender and that’s roughly what the building is.  For only €1.52 you can see the very room where World War II ended.  History on a dime, my friends.

It’s May 7th, 1945 and there are 13 chairs in which the British, French, American, Soviet and German heads of state sit.  They are in a former school room that has served as General Eisenhower’s headquarters since February of that year.  They have come to agree upon the terms of surrender.  General Alfred Jodl, German Chief-of-Staff, would sign the official documentation at 2:41 in the morning and end the war.

Today you can visit Reims and see the room as exactly as it was left that morning.  The maps are still on the wall where they were used for following troop movements.  The chairs are still there in the same places that they were in that day.  The flags, the ashtrays, all there to share this moment in history.

As I study up on European history I keep feeling that much of what I learn about Germany and Germans is negative.  This is because so much of what I’m reading is about the world wars and the Nazis.  I’m glad that the Allies won the war, I’m appalled by what was carried out by Hitler and his henchman but I still feel that painting the Germans with this one color – hate – is wrong.  It’s as wrong as many of the generalized negative impressions that are held about Americans.  For example, we’re all fat, ignorant and loud.  Okay, well… I’m loud, so that’s accurate but maybe you’re not.  Whatever happened or is happening in Germany doesn’t automatically explain Germans.

So when we visit Reims I will pause to appreciate the surrender.  I will celebrate the Allied victory and then I’ll also think about how horrible war is.  Because it’s a lesson that warrants revisiting.

The Swan King – Christopher McIntosh

11 May

I find Ludwig II of Bavaria super interesting. From what I have read, in Germany and some parts of Europe he is revered in an almost King Arthur manner. The reason we know Wagner today is due to largely to Ludwig. He’s also responsible for building some of Germany’s most-visited landmarks. His life was chock full of mystery and not the kind Angela Lansbury would get her mitts on either. The kind that still hasn’t been solved and the kind that generates novels and movies and operas. Oh and biographies, don’t forget those.

Okay, let’s start out with his castles. The most famous one is called Neuschwanstein (Noysh-vahn-stine). The Cinderella Castle that Disney created for Disneyland and that is now the symbol for Disney internationally is based on Neuschwanstein. And I’m guessing this is because it looks like such a… castle. It was built at about the same time that the Eiffel Tower was being constructed. Ludwig loved the fairytale of being a king so he wanted the castle to match.

That’s also where Wagner comes in. At the time the composer met Ludwig, Wagner was behind on bills. Like so behind on bills that the fella had to leave town. Multiple times. That’s when Wagner decides to hunt Wagner down, not for the money he owes but to become his benefactor. You can’t write stuff this good. I know, I saw Transformers. That thing stunk. Anyway, Ludwig shells out big bucks and Wagner is now free to write and to focus on the quality of performers that he wants to have in his operas. At the time musicianship had been kind of stagnating. This is something both men wanted to focus on. They also had a joint vision of making something special for Bavaria (one of the largest German states, at the time).

The problem with Wagner was that Ludwig spent quite a bit of money on him. And Wagner didn’t hide this from the populace. Actually he flaunted it. Wagner was like a talented Paris Hilton, while not blonde or attractive. This way of life got both Wagner and Ludwig into trouble with the King’s subjects. It also started some to questioning if Ludwig should really be on the throne in the first place.

So you add the castle-building and the money for what was considered non-essentials. Then Ludwig stops attending to his royal duties. People start commenting that he might be mad. And well, he might have been. He started living at night, he started acting erratic to his servants, he slowly became completely isolated.

This is where I had to additional research outside of McIntosh’s book. See, there is a theory that Ludwig had syphilis and that this was what was causing his madness. I didn’t know much about syphilis but now that I do, let me tell you why I agree with the theory. Ludwig is also thought to have been latently homosexual. If you were a king in the nineteenth century and you had a venereal disease that changed your appearance (I do not recommend doing a Google search for syphilis like I did… especially during your snack break) doesn’t it make sense that you would start isolating? And some of the other behavior can be attributed to this disease, too. Well, according to WebMD.

Ludwig slowly loses most of his supporters and he is deposed. They take him away to be treated for madness and two days later both he and his psychiatrist are found dead in a lake not far from Neuschwanstein. See? I told you he was interesting. They still don’t have definitive evidence to determine the cause of death.

Perhaps it’s his tragic death that keeps Ludwig in people’s minds. Or maybe it was his life as the fairytale king. Or it could be his patronage of Wagner. It’s hard to know but this book was a fun read and that’s really all I’m here to decide on.